My Top 25 Planeswalkers In Commander

Can you remember when the original Lorwyn five hit the scene? How far we’ve come! Which powerful Multiverse mascots are Sheldon’s favorites for inserting into 100-card decks?

Since their introduction nearly a decade ago (in Lorwyn), planeswalkers have redefined Magic. By their nature, they are extremely powerful. They’ve been at the forefront of Pro Tours, dominated Grand Prix, and made a huge splash at your local Friday Night Magic. Planeswalkers have stepped to the forefront of Magic branding; there’s a strong argument that they’re at least partially responsible for the game’s huge upswing in popularity. We’ve already seen some thought-provoking new ones in the Kaladesh previews. More on those in the upcoming weeks.

Planeswalkers in Commander are a slightly different animal. They still retain their power, but due to the multiplayer nature of the format, they are far more difficult to protect, which you need to do if you want to be able to activate those splashy ultimate abilities (unless, of course, there are Doubling Season tricks). Those which are brick houses in other constructed formats might not be as sturdy in the 100-card decks. Today, I’m going to rank for you my Top 25 Planeswalkers for Commander and hopefully give you a few ideas along the way.

I asked the rest of the Commander Rules Committee (we were conveniently meeting as I was working on this piece) who their favorites are. Toby said, “I think I have zero planeswalkers in my decks,” which probably means he hasn’t done a deck update since 2007. He followed up with, “So probably Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker.” Gavin said that he likes them in inverse relation to their popularity in other formats, which launched us into a side conversation that while we agree that they’re not as powerful as they are in one-on-one formats, they bring another level of complexity to the game. In particular, more blocking happens when planeswalkers are around than when they’re not. Scott said Liliana of the Dark Realms because, and I quote, “Gotta get me some Swamps!” Alex was unfortunately unavailable for the meeting, so I didn’t get his input.

I also asked friend of the show and Pro Tour commentator Brian David-Marshall who his favorite is. His snap reply was “Karn Liberated, because I want to live the dream of total Karnception where you defeat each player in a four- or five-player game in a separate game.” He said he’s gotten to three, but has yet to sweep the table that way.

Weirdly enough, the five planeswalkers which can be your commander don’t make my list. Daretti, Scrap Savant is the one I’ve seen most often; I’m not actually sure I’ve seen any of the others at the helm of a deck. Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury would certainly go into the Elf Druid deck I mentioned last week, but otherwise, although the idea of planeswalkers as commanders is fine, I found the cards themselves left a little wanting. I suppose it bears mentioning again (since folks will ask) that the RC has no intention of making all planeswalkers eligible to be commanders. The primary reason is that we don’t need to; there is already a plethora of choices to put in command of a deck. Secondarily is that we’d have to outright ban a number of them. It’s not worth the effort.

Paring the list down to 25 was difficult. Everyone’s list of top anything is subjective, and I’m sure there are a few of your favorites (or those you think are extremely powerful) which didn’t make my list. My criteria for the best in this light are those planeswalkers which combine powerful effects with compelling playability for a multiplayer game. What I’m looking for is a good combination of abilities, not just a bonkers ultimate. There are a few like Sorin Markov which, while extremely strong, don’t make for good social games and are therefore not on my list. I also am not including the so-called “flip-walkers,” like Liliana, Heretical Healer (which is one of my favorite new cards in the last few years) because they don’t start as a planeswalker.

#25: Karn Liberated

We’ll start the list off with BDM’s favorite. It’s here because, while it is sometimes oppressive, it can also create hilarious game states. The first time person who ever activated Karn against me was Level 3 Judge Ben McDole, playing it in his Progenitus Superfriends deck. He used the +4 ability to put a card from my hand into the trophy case. That card was Brooding Saurian.

#24: Arlinn Kord

I’m a fan of a Werewolf which can control its own transformation. There is certainly a Werewolf tribal deck to be had here. If (and this is a giant if and in no way an indication of something the RC is considering doing; it’s just a thought exercise) I were to pick a few additional planeswalkers to allow as commanders, Arlinn Kord would be one of them so that it could lead a Werewolf Fight Club deck (like my current Ruric Thar, the Unbowed).

#23: Domri Rade

Domri Rade’s low casting cost and his unthreatening first two abilities get it on my list. The devastating ultimate will guarantee that you won’t get to use those other abilities that often, especially since it’s going to take some time to get from Domri’s initial loyalty count of three to the seven you’ll need for the ultimate. Even Doubling Season isn’t going to start you at the last ability, as it does with a number of other cards.

#22: Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Tamiyo almost didn’t make the list because her ultimate is often oppressive. Her first two abilities are strong and play into many control deck strategies. Her cousin Tamiyo, Field Researcher deserves a look, but being relatively new (and having drafted it for my Rotisserie League deck but not yet played it), I haven’t seen it in action enough to make a qualified judgment. It seems like it should be pretty strong without being over the top.

#21: Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

It’s hard to leave out one of Magic’s emblematic characters (plus, also being an Elder Dragon doesn’t hurt). It smarts getting hit with any of the three abilities, but that’s what Grixis is about: punishing you for not being Nicol Bolas.

#20: Tezzeret the Seeker

Full confession: I’ve never actually played the card. Many of my friends, however, have, so I’ve seen it in action. It can get a little combo-ish if you let it, but otherwise it is solid value. It’s certainly an auto-include in your Sharuum, the Hegemon or other artifact-driven blue deck. Note for search purposes that Tezzeret is one of the few planeswalkers or legendary creatures with a “the” epithet that doesn’t have a comma before it.

#19: Ajani Steadfast

Being perfectly candid, I like all the Ajanis. Who wouldn’t want to gain 100 life with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes? I’m a fan of Ajani Steadfast for being a great roleplayer in a deck without seeming too dominant. That ultimate, though.

#18: Sarkhan Vol

While it’s easy to focus on putting a swarm of Dragons onto the battlefield, the different stages of Sarkhan make it eminently playable. Giving a creature or creatures haste (without spending mana to do it) can significantly change your attack step, especially when someone thinks they’re safe. And if you’re planning on getting those five Dragons, you’re probably playing in a deck led by Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund, so they’re going to have haste, too.

#17: Liliana Vess

The first of our original planeswalkers to make the list, I’m a fan of this version of Liliana’s simplicity. Regular readers know that I’m not that much of a fan of tutoring in the format, but I’m a huge fan of putting creatures from everyone’s graveyard onto the battlefield under my control. And as long as I’m doing confessionals, I was so excited the first time that I got to activate Liliana’s last ability, I didn’t notice that someone else has a Kederekt Leviathan in their graveyard—which I had made them previously discard.

#16: Garruk, Primal Hunter

I’m a fan of creatures. This Garruk doesn’t so much hunt them as find them and bring them to the battlefield.

#15: Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Ajani’s low casting cost is what got me first interested in it. Comboing with life gain, to which I’m probably irrationally attached, got me excited. Using the -3 ability for a few commander damage kills really pushed it over the top.

#14: Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Yeah, still a fan of creatures. This Garruk might be the most accurately named, because he definitely calls the Beasts. And the Dragons, Elementals, and whatever else you might want.

#13: Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

This Elspeth’s three abilities craft a story that when the humble and perhaps disenfranchised get together, they can do wonderful things. You don’t have to wait or use her up to activate what might be the strongest of her abilities, killing all the enormous creatures. The emblem is just icing on the cake.

#12: Elspeth Tirel

Two Elspeths in a row probably alert you to the fact that there’s a third in the top ten. Despite my Temur tendencies, I might at heart be a white mage, because I like the simplicity of Elspeth’s lack of moral ambiguity. Peace must prevail, even if the wicked must die.

#11: Dack Fayden

The greatest thief in the Multiverse does what he needs to do to get to his end goal of owning everything. With Dack, you can use the otherwise-unplayable Sea Kings’ Blessing to gain control of all creatures. You could also use the slightly more useful Sway of Illusion, since it’s a cantrip.

#10: Sarkhan the Mad

He’s mad, I tell you! How do you not love a planeswalker which has no way to give himself loyalty? Drawing cards for free is pretty spicy (although it’s not actually a “draw,” so it won’t trigger someone else’s Consecrated Sphinx). Plus, you know, Dragons.

#9: Jace Beleren

Jace Beleren will help you gauge how friendly someone wants to be. Are they “everybody draws” or are they greedy? I’m not going to get angry at someone for keeping all the goodies to themselves, but I’ll definitely be appreciative of sharing the wealth. The -10 ability is almost an afterthought, but you have to be careful because someone can be all nice with “sure, everybody draws.” They lull you in a false sense of security, and then “Boom! Mill you for twenty.”

#8: Ajani Goldmane

Another of the originals, this Ajani is all about getting that Avatar token. You’re playing it in a lifegain deck anyway, so the two you gain from the +1 ability is secondary; that’s just about getting to six loyalty. It’s even better if you’re playing it with Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. The second ability lets this Ajani be a nice role-player in a “+1/+1 counters matter” deck. To combine both, play it in a deck with Spike Feeder.

#7: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Maybe it’s because I just like Innistrad block or that this particular Sorin is a favorite of some of my local players, but I think they hit the right chord with the card. It’s simply strong without being overpowered. It’s great flavor-wise and it’s particularly functional, which makes it outstanding for the format.

#6: Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

It comes out early due to a low mana cost and protects itself by making a Plant token, which later feeds your Avenger of Zendikar. Unless, like with Ajani Goldmane, you’re using it as a functioning piece of that deck in which the +1/+1 counters matter, it’s all about the Plant tokens and the race to seven loyalty and the big lifegain and grip full of cards.

#5: Liliana of the Dark Realms

Like Scott said, gotta get those Swamps. Black decks (which don’t have green) sometimes have trouble making sure they get their lands, so this Liliana definitely helps with that. The -3 ability seems like “emergency use only,” since you want to get to the emblem as quickly as you can. Once you’re at six, you’re firing on all cylinders for maximum Swampiness.

#4: Elspeth, Knight-Errant

This Elspeth was responsible for me dying to commander damage from Zedruu the Greathearted while I was at 2500 or so life. The +1 abilities are straightforward and solid. Obviously, the -8 is a game-changer. Like a number of other strong planeswalkers, Elspeth has an ability which adds loyalty counters while providing a means for protecting itself by producing a blocker. It’s also one of the first cards anyone altered for me, increasing my fondness for it.

#3: Venser, the Sojourner

I’m addicted to blink effects (huh—more evidence that maybe I’m not quite as stuck on Temur as I thought I was), so Venser, the Sojourner is right in my wheelhouse. One of the things about the first ability is that it blinks a permanent that you own, not merely control. It’s not going to give you any silly Conjurer’s Closet effects, but if someone has stolen something of yours, Venser will get it back for you. Because the permanent doesn’t return until end of turn, that +2 ability is also useful if you’re going to do a battlefield wipe of some kind. U/W is clearly a control combination, so coming out of left field with the -1 ability can be a game-winner. The emblem is pretty much “I win” after you activate it; the good news for group unity is that other players will orc-pile onto Venser and rarely let you get to it. The better news about that is that they’ll spend considerable resources making sure you don’t get the emblem, which means attacks and other targeted removal head toward Venser instead of your face or other permanents.

#2: Jace, the Mind Sculptor

I feel like anything I write about JtMS will be unable to capture the essence of its awesomeness, so just think of your favorite thing—and then remember that Jace is even better than that.

#1: Garruk Wildspeaker

Original Garruk combines a powerful ability (untapping two lands for no mana) with an excellent late-game. I’ve seen players get lulled to sleep thinking that the Garruk player is just going to use the first ability over and over again without thinking about the Overrun effect. Then they get killed by it, and the next time they see Garruk Wildspeaker, it gets nuked pretty quickly. I’ve listed it at number one, since it’s the planeswalker which I have in the most decks. When I think of basic green ramp packages (Rampant Growth, Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Solemn Simulacrum, Skyshroud Claim), Garruk Wildspeaker is often on the list. I can probably count the times on one hand in which I’ve used the ability which creates a Beast token—and they all likely involved either needing to stay alive or drawing an emergency card off Garruk’s Packleader.

I play planeswalkers in nearly every deck—a quick review showed only five of 40 decks which didn’t have one at all; most of them carry at least two. My Trostani Do Over deck (this week’s Deck Without Comment) has the most, at five. Remember that a particular planeswalker’s absence from this list doesn’t mean I think that it’s bad—it’s just that, for me, these 25 shine above the rest. Hopefully they’ll shine for you, too.

This Week’s Hidden Gem

Sometimes your friends get greedy with their land bases. You want there to be a cost associated with it, but you don’t want to go down the road of Back to Basics, Ruination, or Blood Moon. The answer is Primal Order, one of the few playable cards from Homelands.

They can have all the nonbasic lands they want—it’s just going to hurt.

This Week’s Deck Without Comment

Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:


Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers; Kresh Into the Red Zone; Halloween with Karador; Dreaming of Intet; You Did This to Yourself;



Heliod, God of Enchantments; Thassa, God of Merfolk; Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead; Forge of Purphoros; Nylea of the Woodland Realm; Karn, Beatdown Golem


Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club

Shards and Wedges

Adun’s Toolbox; Animar’s Swarm; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn


Children of a Greater God


Animar Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over

If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987 and has just begun a new saga called The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”